Ash Wednesday Thoughts

“…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust- in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection through “the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” Amen.

I have spoken these words at many committal services through my years as a pastor. They are probably familiar to most of us. As many today will participate in an “Ash Wednesday” service and afterwards have the evidence on their forehead, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment and think about why. In the Bible, ashes are most often a symbol of repentance. The truly penitent would cover themselves with dust and ashes. (i.e.- Job 42:6- “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”) And so, “Ash” Wednesday begins a time of reflection and repentance called “Lent,” which as it turns out is so much more than fish frys an’ that.

This rhythm of the church’s life, preserved in liturgy, is now often observed out of habit rather than deep understanding, is by-in-large, lost on us. The lessons that it offers us are profound. Consider with me at least a few.

  • That we are but ash and dust. This was the humble confession of Abraham when he dared ask God for mercy to be shown to sinful Sodom (Genesis 18:27). “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:4-5) How often do we remember in humility that our lives are short? That we’ve only been given a finite number of years, months, days, moments? How often does such humility inform our prayers? Our service? Our relationships with others? Our spending? Our giving?
  • That we are powerless against death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. God states it this way in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” You and I are mortal beings. And from this ‘body of death’ there is only one Savior. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:42-58) And while this is true physically, it also is true spiritually. We are being made new and alive spiritually by our communion with Jesus. He breathes his life into our death. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18) What is ‘dead’ in you that needs the life only Jesus can give? Why do we struggle so hard to animate that which is dead? O that we might throw ourselves upon the life-giving Savior! Can we admit our powerlessness in the face of death, physical and spiritual? Can we surrender to Him all that needs still be brought to life?
  • That we worship a life-transforming God. Jesus gives us life, we are dead. Jesus give us resurrection. Jesus will transform our ‘lowly’ bodies to be like His heavenly one. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:1-3a Yes Ash Wednesday is for reflection and repentance but, it isn’t a time for despair. We have in Jesus a life-transforming Savior. You and I are sinners and we need repentance and renewal. Wonderfully, we have a Savior who’s blood pleads our case and who’s resurrection life is available in super-abundance, who gives “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise for a spirit of despair.” Where have you lost hope in God’s transforming power? What have you said in despair could not be changed? Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

My prayer is that in this Lenten season, we would see our faith deepen and grow. Let’s consider deeply our sin and our death. Let us anticipate greatly the celebration of the Resurrection even as we see new glimpses of Jesus’ life in us!

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